This is one in a series of monthly reviews of books for young people. Today's are by Alexa Sandmann, professor of literacy at Kent State University.
The Coretta Scott King awards, named for the late wife of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., celebrate King's lifelong passion -- respecting and valuing each human being.
The awards, announced annually at the winter meeting of the American Library Association, honor the talents of both an African-American writer and illustrator.
Typically, honor books also are named, the number varying year to year. Sometimes, the committee names winners of a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Author or Illustrator award. Neither was bestowed this year.
Coretta Scott King Author Award
HEART AND SOUL: THE STORY OF AMERICA AND AFRICAN AMERICANS. Written and illustrated by Kadir Nelson. Balzer + Bray/ HarperCollins. Ages 9 and up. $19.99
The warmth and depth of the illustrations accentuate the rich, loving, but honest tone of this text, that of an "Everywoman" or grandmother telling her children or grandchildren "the story of America" -- and the integral role of African Americans in that story. This oversized book is gloriously filled with stunning oil paintings that capture significant events and persons who influenced that story, from the impact of slavery to the Revolutionary and Civil wars through the Civil Rights movement.
While clearly the influence of African Americans on our country's history cannot be captured in any one book, Nelson has framed this story through the narrator, whose family history was closely related to America's story. Thus, with both word and art, Nelson poignantly draws us close to this thoroughly American story. Even while it is not the conventional American story, it is clearly our story.
This book also was the single Honor Book named this year in the Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award category.
THE GREAT MIGRATION: JOURNEY TO THE NORTH. By Eloise Greenfield. Illustrated by Jan Spivey Gilchrist. Amistad/ Harper Collins. Ages 3 to 8. $16.99
Using the experience of her own "journey to the North," Eloise Greenfield created a collection of poems to share the migration of thousands of African Americans between 1915 and 1930 to the northern states. Known as the "Great Migration," African Americans hoped to escape the attacks of the Ku Klux Klan and the indignity of "White Only" signs, and to avail themselves of increased employment opportunities.
Divided into five parts, seemingly parallel to a five-act play, collage art interprets and extends each poem. The final stanza summarizes the voyage well: "We were one family / among the many thousands./ Mama and Daddy leaving home, / coming to the city, with their / hopes and their courage, / their dreams and their children, / to make a better life." A perfect companion to Heart and Soul.
NEVER FORGOTTEN. By Patricia McKissack. Artwork by Leo and Diane Dillon. Schwartz & Wade Books/ Random House. All ages. $18.99
In a series of free verse poems, a griot -- a storyteller -- relays the narrative of the Taken, those people originally from Africa who were brutally captured and transported to America to become slaves. Combining information about slave trade, magical skills attributed to Mende blacksmiths, and a Caribbean legend about hurricanes, McKissack created a heartrending story.
As she explains in her author's note, her hope was to address the question that "all of us who are descendants of the Taken ask: 'Were we missed?'" Her answer? A resounding "Yes!"
Again, this is a wonderful companion to the two books previously reviewed, as McKissack imbeds in her final poem these lines: "Loved ones are never forgotten / when we continue to tell their stories." The Dillons' acrylic and watercolor illustrations vividly portray the text, full of rich nuances of color and line.
Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award
UNDERGROUND: FINDING THE LIGHT TO FREEDOM. Illustrated and written by Shane W. Evans. Roaring Book Press/Holtzbrinck Holdings Limited Partnership. Ages 8 and up. $16.99.
This compelling book, centered on the concept of freedom, highlights the path that American slaves took as they pursued freedom on the Underground Railroad. While the text is incredibly sparse -- and powerful in its simplicity -- the concept it represents is complex, and Evans' use of color supports the book's message perfectly. Evans dedicated this boldly illustrated text to Pastor Alice, who "helps free people today by finding food and shelter for the homeless and women and children in need."
Further, a portion of the proceeds from the book supports her organization, True Light Resources Center. As a read aloud at home, in a classroom, or at a library, the conversation about the freedoms many take for granted will provide meaningful discussion -- and perhaps action -- to help everyone "reach freedom."